Gram Parsons Tribute | S.F. | Review | Pics

By: Dennis Cook | Images by: John Margaretten

Sleepless Nights – Gram Parsons Tribute :: 08.27.11 :: Great American Music Hall :: San Francisco, CA

East Bay Grease by John Margaretten
Full gallery for this show directly below review!

It’s impossible to underestimate the impact Gram Parsons has had on music. His mixture of country, rock, blues and whatnot was something already stewing in the fertile climate of the 1960s but it was his sheer charisma and personality - not to mention instantly enduring songwriting and heartbroken voice – that set this mixture on the course to be a movement that’s still picking up new acolytes every year.

For the past 10 years, a special evening in San Francisco entitled Sleepless Nights, after one of Gram’s signature numbers, has taken place, organized and lovingly assembled by Eric Shea (Sweet Chariot, Mover). The tenth installment last weekend was a testament to Gram’s long reach and to the enormous amount of sweet, sweet talent lurking in the Bay Area whose work has been directly touched by Parsons.

Paula Frazer by John Margaretten
Largely comprised of covers of Parsons’ music – solo and with The Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers – the night reminds one how many fantastic songs the man penned as well as all the terrific tunesmiths he spotlighted and introduced to future generations. Every single musician who stepped up had chops and charm galore, so much so that if one really sank into what was on offer their face probably hurt from smiling when they wandered out in the midnight hour. Such joy for this music was on display that one felt infused with something nourishing, chicken soup for the soul as the self-help crowd might say.

What was just as impressive as the deft handling of Gram’s catalog was how the original material by these artists had such consonance with the master’s work, standing up proudly and strongly next to staples covered by countless bands worldwide. It’s no secret that San Francisco and its surrounding regions is home to some astoundingly talented musicians but it was still sobering to see how what Gram termed “Cosmic American Music” has such a home here.

A few highlights:

Gypsy Moonlight Band by John Margaretten
-The opening readings of “Sleepless Nights” and “Hickory Wind” from Paula Frazer, which set a fabulous mood.

-The entire too-short set from Gypsy Moonlight Band, who pumped muscle & blood into “Devil In Disguise” and “Big Mouth Blues” and made one hungry to see what a headlining set would be like.

-The roughly tintinabulous blend of Chuck Prophet and Stephanie Finch's voices (not to mention Chuck’s Americanized Richard Thompson-esque shredding).

-The easy, winning stage presence and ear-snaggin’ crooning of Big Eagle (who’s put out one heck of a fine debut album this year) in a set helped along by one of the Bay’s secret weapons, Bart Davenport.

-The strut and earthy appeal of East Bay Grease, who also offered the best between song banter of the night.

-The indestructibly solid whomp of Red Meat, one of the land’s great country-rock units.

-The general togetherness of Sweet Chariot, who have all the makings to be a fantastic band (a debut album is one the horizon).

What really sticks from this year’s installment is the camaraderie of everyone involved and the way players flowed in & out of sets all night. It’s a friendly, music-loving thing that’s lovely to witness, a refusal of the “business” end of music in a tangible way that Gram would have loved.

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[Published on: 9/2/11]

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